Emily Barker, Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay Jumping Hot Club Gosforth Civic Theatre Newcastle Saturday 29th May 2021.
Wahay! Live Music is finally back! Because of all the restrictions surrounding the first gig at this venue in well over a year, I only received conformation of my ‘seat’ an hour before the doors opened …… which initiated an excited drive across the city in the bright Bank Holiday sunshine, with Emily Barker’s A DARK MURMARATION OF WORDS not quite blaring from the speakers. Once inside the venue it was equally weird and fascinating watching the limited crowd being escorted 2 x 2 to their pre-booked tables then given a full set of instructions, including how to order ‘table service’. That said; if this is what it takes to get Live Music up and running again …… so be it. Just to add to the ‘oddness’ of tonight’s event; the support act Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay were actually still in Nashville and being beamed to NE England via an HD Internet connection; which meant that they couldn’t hear or see any response to their songs. Aha …… onto the music. Following a nervy introduction Brennen introduced their first song as being a personal request from the Jumpin’ Hot Club promoter Graham Anderson; and what followed was quite extraordinary ….. Intergalactic Shipwreck Blues; a song I wasn’t previously aux fait with; but proved the perfect start to this particular evening. As the song ended; and totally unknown to the couple; the applause from the 50 strong crowd was rapturous and as loud (per head) as the Beatles at Shea Stadium! In fairness it took a couple of songs for the act and audience to settle into the scenario; but eventually everyone relaxed and the mix of new songs (Arlene and the divine Prairie Love Letter) with the couple’s standards (The Ballad of Tombstone Poker and Rosine (?) and After The Show) made their 45 minutes fly by.
The oddest thing for me was seeing the couple three times their normal size; and finally realizing what a scary look Noel McKay has when not singing ……. staring straight down the camera lens with cold beady eyes; and daring the audience not to appreciate Brennen Leigh’s singing voice. The highlight was when Brennen introduced a fan favourite song; by saying she did understand the irony involved by them singing a song about the romantic idealism of Analog in Nashville, Tennessee and then High Tech beaming it thousands of miles to Newcastle, England. The twenty minute break had regular Club attendees who hadn’t seen each other for a year or more, waving to each other and miming various ailments …… which could easily become a Saturday Night TV Game Show. Then Emily Barker made her appearance; noticeably giggling with excitement as she and husband Luke Drinkwater set up their gear; then taking to the mic to welcome everyone and apologising in advance if she started crying at any time in the evening; as “getting back on stage after 14 months, meant so much to her.” Although several friends in the hall had seen Emily Barker a dozen or more times over the years; this was my first time …… and even a minute or so into first song Geography made me see and hear why her fans are so loyal. Her voice (and songwriting) simply transcends what I know as Folk Music ……. as the night rolled on I heard elements and essences of Carole King, Emmylou Harris and Sandy Denny in the way Ms Barker sings and evolves her songs plus at one stage Emily and Luke embarked on the gentlest guitar duel I’ve ever witnessed. The couple performed three or for songs from the recent album alongside a wonderful new single called Bound For Home; written and originally performed with Frank Turner; but tonight this lovely sad song was 95% Emily herself with Luke adding harmonies and an extra doze of melancholia by bowing his double bass ……. all of which sent the hair on the back of my head on end. One of the joys of seeing a live concert is that there are no overdubs or any other jiggery-pokery; this is high-wire stuff; and Emily made a couple of mistakes mid song; starting again once and the second time simply raising her eyebrows, smiling and getting on with it …… that’s Rock and Roll kids.
As a newcomer to the delights of Emily Barker I obviously didn’t recognise several songs; but that mattered not a jot as this was a total joy from start to finish with Where Have The Sparrows Gone? when Emily’s crystal clear voice soared and swooped like the bird itself and then there was The Woman Who Planted Trees ….. phwoar what a powerful song and the story Emily told of the woman who inspired it was tear inducing to even an old soak like me. The main set ended with Emily taking to a piano; and there was an effortless grace to both Sister Goodbye and Sonogram that to some degree totally unexpected if no surprise; judging by what had gone before. For the obligatory Encores, Emily returned to her Folk Club roots with Billowing Sea and The Blackwood which brought another round of very noisy applause and a race between Emily and her fans to get to the Merch Table in the foyer! For me, this was a really lovely way to get back into Concert going; seeing one act that was previously relatively unknown to me and catching up with a couple I’ve loved and admired for a few years now …….. Long Live Rock & Roll (in all its forms).
Who knows where the time goes …. 5 months and 21 Music hours; phew. This week features our friend Bobbo Byrnes talking about his Gateway Record; which for the second week running was something I’d never heard before ….. which is what this is all about. Apart from that I’ve delved deep into my own collection for everything else; so …. nothing new this week, just me being self-indulgent.
Craig Cardiff All This Time Running True North Records
Intricately Constructed and Articulate Songs; Which Will Haunt You for Years to Come.
WOW! Apparently Canadian Singer-Songwriter Craig Cardiff has previously self-released 25 albums and EP’s since 1999; but this on the fabulous True North label is his first in 6 years and this is the first time that I’ve heard of him. If ALL THIS TIME RUNNING is the benchmark; then the loss has been mine. First of all I’m not sure I agree with his description of himself as a Folk Singer; I have him pegged as a Singer-Songwriter and I believe there is a very subtle, but significant difference ….. which we can debate at a later date. The title track kick starts the album; and the first thing I noticed was Cardiff’s voice; part gruff and part velvety in texture but incredibly sensitive and expressive. The song itself has an expansive feel to it; and I swear that there’s a banjo in the many layered musical backing to Cardiff’s intense and beautiful tale of love. One of the reasons that it’s taken me so long to actually write a review; is Cardiff’s voice which he uses like an instrument all of its own; it’s like a cloak that wraps everything together in a way you find yourself not always taking notice of the words and stories; but that’s a good thing at times; but you really should pay attention as Craig Cardiff really can write a cleverly constructed and articulate song; the likes of which will haunt you for years to come ……. which has already happened to me with Yellowknife, Fire, Fire, Fire and the meticulous and bouncy Emm & May, which had me humming the melody and mumbling a few words late one night at work! We all know the adage that songwriters should ‘write about what they know’ and Craig Cardiff does this with imaginative and colourful flourishes on Bryant Park, Greyhound SK and Wyoming; truly ‘painting pictures with words.’ My copy has a bunch of Bonus Tracks on it; and I hope yours does too; as the two versions of Moon are both worthy of inclusion; especially the Big Band rendering and the title track All This Time Running comes back with an Explicit Version; which would normally turn me off …… but we ain’t talking NWA here, just a slightly more punchy approach which does a great song no harm at all. For my Favourite Song I’m actually torn between the Bonus Track Dirty Old Town and The American, which appears much earlier. Dirty Old Town confused me at first; as I was expecting the Ewan MacColl song, made famous by The Pogues; but no…. it’s actually a rather lovely Modern Folkie missive with some really sharp and neat guitar work behind a love song we can all associate with. The American, on the other hand is a a cool rootsy, Jazz tinged song; with swooping strings and a drummer who must have studied under Levon Helm (less is more?) making it the perfect accompaniment for a warm Spring/Summer evening preferably sitting on a veranda drinking something quite exotic …. which makes this easily my Favourite Track here; although the competition was very high. Craig Cardiff covers a lot of ground here; dabbling in a variety of styles, that are all woven together to create a genuinely complete body of work; well worthy of his contempories all across North America … and beyond.
Paul Handyside Loveless Town Malady Music/Bandcamp
A Musical Arcade of Roots, Americana and Good Olde Folk Songs.
Aha! There’s a new album from Paul Handyside coming out and it pains me to say that neither Bob Harris or any of our popular TV shows Lorraine, Jonathan Ross, Graham Norton or even Later With Jools Holland will feature him; but all (apart from Bob ….. probably) will interview Tom Jones and the Tax Avoider from Take That and give them precious air time to promote music no one will buy. Life’s not fair is it? But the discerning music fans like you and I don’t need them; do we? This is Newcastle singer-songwriter Paul Handyside’s fourth solo album; and I’ve been playing it on and off for two months now; sometimes when I was even supposed to be listening to someone else for review purposes. I’m a great believer in the opening track being a ‘strong song’; something to capture the attention and …….. the title track, Loveless Town just might be the best song Paul has ever released. Seriously. A self-confessed Roots Songwriter; Paul goes all Hill Country George Jones siphoned through Steve Earle, with trusty sidekick Rob Tickell playing a lap steel as if he’s channelling the spirit of Buddy Epson …… I know that’s a lot to take in; but I’m not wrong. Just as you try to get your breath back, Handyside and Tickell hit you with the sucker punch that is Light of My Life; a more spacious, but still maudlin love song that takes us on a journey of love that needs a video akin to a lonesome cowboy sitting on the trail, or possibly a travelling musician sitting in a windswept bus station at midnight with the only the moon and memories for company. Beware; Paul is a Roots songwriter; not just Country Music; he can and does change direction in the blink of an eye; but his rich baritone voice and Rob’s symbiotic accompaniment take us on all kinds of journeys, not least with the gently swoonsome heartbreaker Don’t Let Your Heart be a Hotel or the bittersweet bedsit troubadour love song Only You and of course there’s the punchy Lord, Show Yourself which is Roots Music at its richest and most expressive. As with many albums I’ve received lately; this was written and recorded during 2020 during various Lockdowns and Paul somehow keeping his head above water while working in the Health Care sector and Rob, like so many like him, losing his day job in the Arts; but those frustrations and occasional angry bursts come out in the music …… although not always literally. With so much on offer here; it’s been incredibly difficult to select an out and out Winner of the Favourite Track accolade. I first heard Paul sing Hartley Pit Disaster two or three years ago and it hit me like left hook to the solar plexus …… and I’ve subsequently requested it at two further concerts. A Modern Folk Song, about a real coal mining disaster at a local Northumbrian colliery that eventually changed the laws; and is actually best served by hearing Paul tell the story before you hear it. While a ‘local song’ it will touch the hearts of any and everyone from coal mining communities around the world where these tales are all too sadly commonplace. BTW There are harmonies in the mix; but at some stage I’d love to hear this Paul and Rob perform this song with a Colliery Band and associated choir …… it bloody deserves it! Anyway, that’s not even my second Favourite Song here! I know …… but the quality of writing and singing is exceptional. #2 is most likely the finale; another beautiful, if bittersweet love song Someone Like You that manages to marry the essence of modern Bedsit Troubadour stylismo, with Cowboy Country Music melancholia and imagery too. Then, there is a song that kind of sums up a lot of what we have all suffered politically and even emotionally in not just the last two or three years; but in the case of Great Britain; 10 or more …….. Not In My Name captures the frustrations and angst of a nation; any nation and is surely destined to be a thunderous end of night sing/shout a long that initially brought back memories of a Red Wedge Tour many moons ago and if ever there was a time for a Folkie to turn up at the barricades with a guitar and a bag of full of Anthems; now is the time and Paul Handyside (with Rob too) is just that man! His time has come …….. this by far; is probably/definitely Paul Handyside’s most complete and finest body of work so far; as I’m sure there is more and hopefully even better to come.
It’s that time of the week again …. MUSIC HOUR TIME! It’s another eclectic mix of old, new, borrowed and Bluesy …… with a great and slightly surprising Gateway Song from Martin Stephenson; plus brand new tracks from fellow Geordies Shipcote and Paul Handyside; plus Dust Radio alongside Classics and rarities from the great and the good across Roots Music. Twenty shows in and we still haven’t played the same song twice ….. and nor will we.
Steve Goodman It Sure Looked Good On Paper Omnivore Records
Keeping The Flame Alive.
For a man who died so very young; Steve Godman appears to have left a fabulous legacy and goldmine of songs in his back catalogue. This latest release from those fine folks at Omnivore Records is a rather loving look at a bunch of demos, rarities and oddities long forgot by even his most ardent fans.
It’s obviously no surprise that City of New Orleans opens the album; only as a band demo; not that you would know it, as it sounds fully formed and staggering in its beautiful complexity and observational detail; and its no wonder that it has become a timeless American Classic as the years have gone by. OK there will be some pedant reading this who will tsk at my next sentence; but what follows; including a bunch of demos is all new to me and therefore; I can and will treat this as a brand new album ….. which it is. While fundamentally ‘of his time’, Goodman’s style is genuinely timeless and if you didn’t know better Yellow Coat, Kiss Me Goodbye Again and The Water Is Wide are all as astute and sharply observed as anything I hear from Millennial songwriters that grace the RMHQ turntable, yet were written and recorded over 40 years ago. Of the oddities here, the charming Face on The Cutting Room Floor was written, but not used in the film Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid; and that title track is here too; plus there’s the stupendously atmospheric Six Pack, originally cited for a Kurt Russell film but has remained hidden until now …… and the world is a better place because of it; and if you are an Alt. Country Band looking for a ‘hit’ ….. look no further my friends. As there are 20 songs here I can’t discuss each and every one; but Climb the Hills to The Dale, The Dutchman and The Auctioneer certainly deserve to mentioned ‘in despatches’. This then brings me to my choice of Favourite Song. The class and quality that Steve Goodman brings to everything here; even the demos makes this quite difficult, but I’ve narrowed it down to three; the title track alone ‘tickled me’ and the half-baked song itself lives up to the title; and the band ‘demo’ Hands On Time, yet again surpasses many songs of a similar ilk I’ve heard from so called ‘stars’ of more recent years. Then; there is the song that I played first simply because the title appealed to me … Eight Ball Blues; and (again) it not just lived up to; but surpassed its billing. Phew; why was this not a #1 hit? It’s every inch as good as anything I’ve heard from the same period (Paxton? Chapin? Ochs? Rush?) or beyond; and better than most, with Goodman’s articulate observations and use of metaphor as good as anything his peers ever managed in their homes on Millionaires Row. As I said earlier there’s a lot here that today’s singer-songwriters can learn from and for bands to dip into and utilise for their own nefarious gains; but also to keep the Steve Goodman memory alive and well in the 21st Century.
Quirky, Catchy and Lovable Folk Tales From the Wilds of North Staffordshire.
“Is there a market for idiosyncratic musical tales of North Staffordshire life?” is a question you might not ask yourself very often, if at all. But it’s an essential one when confronting the works of Bob Moston aka Merrym’n who’s building a musical portfolio based around that very notion. Well, if it worked for Frank Sidebottom and Timperley, there’s an argument that it can work elsewhere too. Although somewhat less surreal than Half Man Half Biscuit, there’s also a link there too; as the song titles are often as entertaining as what’s contained within them. “Anthea Turner Blew Up” (about the TV presenter who came from the Staffordshire Moorlands); “In His Sid Kirkham Scarf;” about a local artist of idealised and somewhat sentimental Potteries scenes and my favourite, “Community Project Vandal” which could easily have been the title of a Fall B-side. Musically, it’s one man and his guitar at the core of this, but accompanied by whatever instrumentation suits. On “The Toerag of Smallthorne Bank” the tale of this unpleasant chap is set to a Spaghetti Western/Calexico widescreen score, and “Jenny Greenteeth” tells a tale of adolescent romance played out against a Jonathan Richman/Tommy Larkins rhythm. Whereas “The Hartshill Mile” adopts a scuttling train beat about a well-known pub-crawl in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Football and its culture is never too far away either; “A boy named Frank Soo” is a long-overdue tribute to the first player of Chinese origin “to play for Eng-er-land;” whereas “Nello the Clown” uses a kazoo “Ring of Fire” riff for this homage to Neil Baldwin whose life was dramatized in the TV film “*Marvellous;” and “Lads and Dads” takes an early 60’s doo-wop approach to the holiday scheme which got different generations together on the football pitch. Apocryphal and passed down local stories are given greater mythological weight in songs like the Rockabilly-ish “A Diesel Engine Through the Wall” and the Kinks-like “The Tall Grey Man of the Lido”. The key to understanding a lot of the 20 track album though is “Statue of Josiah” which explores and celebrates a catalogue of Potteries iconography “nothing stokes the flames like that statue of Josiah” “are these the ghosts of better days? Do we yearn to return to the old ways?” “but we can see with our own eyes – these are troubling times”. That’s the core to “More from Merrym’n” its quirky, catchy and lovable folk tales from the wilds of North Staffordshire stay the right side of sentimentality, in that they celebrate the working-class spirit and beauty that’s left in one man’s otherwise neglected and decaying hometown.
Review by Nick Barber (who coincidentally hails from this very area!)
Rod Picott Wood, Steel, Dust and Dreams Self-Released
A Veritable Smorgasbord of Newly Re-Recorded Cleaves/Picott Co-Writes
Aimed squarely and unashamedly at die-hard fans, this 1000 physical double CD only limited release is not going to be streamed; so as Rod himself says –“It’s a collector’s edition. I’m thinking of it as a run of folk art prints. This album is for the folks who have sustained me over the years and want to help get me to the other side of 2020.” The thinking behind the album was to bring together in one place all of the songs co-written by Rod and long time friend and musical accomplice Slaid Cleaves. It turns out that both had had a similar idea to produce such a project, but it was Picott who got to it first, with Slaid’s blessing. Over two CDs there are 26 tracks – some released by Picott, some by Cleaves, some by both and some never released at all; but everything here is a brand new recording though. The liner booklet provides copious notes on each track so it defeats the object in a review to repeat the information contained therein – how does it stand up as a body of musical work therefore? Well, it’s very good indeed. Being recorded as one project, there’s a consistency and warmth about the whole sound, glued together admirably by producer Neilson Hubbard. My first reference point when listening were the tracks I knew, to see how they compared with versions that I’d already heard. “Broke Down” was my point of entry and it’s a gorgeous take – Rod’s voice is more upfront and mellow and the lack of drums and addition of gentle harmonica fit the mis-en-scene of the song’s sentiment(s). Conversely, “Bring It On” is a harsher, rougher take with gritty Twang and a more anguished vocal – “Sinner’s Prayer” has more of a darker, apocalyptic edge too, now. Throughout the superb notes that accompany the release, there are explanations as to how these versions – and others found their shape; and it’s a fascinating read. Instrumentation is generally sparse and supportive but tender, acting as an appropriate counterpoint to what are (to these ears) Rod’s finest recorded vocal performances. “Beyond Love” is nearly all vocal, punctuated by lonely guitar and it’s something that Leonard Cohen would have prodded you with a sharp object to get his hands on. Of the songs I was less familiar with (or hadn’t heard before in any form) “Sparrow;” about the effect of the death of Rod’s mother, is tender sentiment without sentimentality, sung from deep down and sounding far away and yet close. “Fire Inside” from “Out Past the Wires” now becomes a Springsteen Nebraskaesque howl of raw emotion. The one track on the release which is not a co-write is “The ballad of the Magic Rats”, the story of the band that Rod and Slaid played in as teenagers, and ties the whole musical and thematic package together quite perfectly. If you’re one of the die-hard fans that this double CD is aimed at, you’ll love the insights to the songs, but most of all you’ll love the performances; this is the closest I’ve heard to encapsulating the essence of Rod Picott as I’ve heard him on stage and in person. You’ll need to hurry though, because as soon as word gets round, the 1000 copies will be gone. Make damn sure you get yours.
Produced and Mixed by Neilson Hubbard Recorded by Rod Picott and Neilson Hubbard Guitar : Will Kimbrough Acoustic Slide Guitar : Matt Mauch Mandolin and Bass : Lex Price Percussion : Neilson Hubbard Harmonies : Neilson Hubbard and Matt Mauch Harmony on “Bring It On” : Slaid Cleaves Mastered by Alex McCollough Guitar, Vocals, Harmonica : Rod Picott
Another eclectic mix of all things Roots orientated; recent releases, Classics including an intriguing Gateway choice from Lauren Housley; and a few new Singles that close the show …… stick in there; as the finale from Maya Lakhani is a very important song about and for women of all ages and IMHO spawns the beginning of a new talent that crosses many genres.